Friday, 27 March 2015

Tarragon Chicken Pasta Bake - Baby food for Grown Ups

It's not crumble, it's pasta bake for grown ups. 
I think I must have eaten maybe three pasta bakes in my life and I don't know why it's not more. Pure comforting stodge, an often cheesy creamy carb fest that's gone crispy on the top. A random Nigella recipe popped up on my Facebook feed the other day for an insanely simple pasta recipe involving ham, creme fraiche and peas, the easiest supper ever with room to make it more grown up if you should so wish. The other night I set out to cook tarragon chicken risotto, which is a post Sunday roast special in our house. Except I didn't have any risotto rice* or parmesan. Or onions. Nightmare. I found a secret stash of arborio rice when cleaning out my cupboard the next day, you should do it some time, you find all sorts of things!!!!! After about 15 minutes deliberating whether or not to go to the shop (which would have taken four minutes) I took up the ready steady cook challenge and made do. And that's how this recipe came along. 

Feeds two with leftovers for drunken midnight feasts.

Preheat the oven to 180c. Cook enough pasta for 2, use a short pasta like penne or fusilli. Gent fry a finely chopped onion (I used two manky spring onions as it's all I had) in  a splash of olive oil or melted butter and add a minced clove of garlic after five minutes. Add a heaped teaspoon of dried tarragon (if you have fresh, great, just add it a bit later, when you add the chicken) and a splash of white wine. Let it bubble for a couple of minutes (but don't let it all evaporate) and add a couple of handfuls of shredded left over roast chicken and season well. Stir in a tbsp of creme fraiche and baby leaf spinach if you have it (this is a super flexible recipe). Grate in a handful of parmesan or cheddar. Drain your pasta which should be cooked by now and mix the chicken mixture with it. Take either individual ceramic dishes or one big one and divide the mix between them. Top with breadcrumbs mixed with the chopped zest of half a lemon, a bit more grated cheese and salt and pepper. Bung it in the oven and it's ready when golden.

Devour with your chosen green, chicory for me, peas for The Husband (I can't stand peas) and then collapse in a carb coma about ten minutes later when you realise how much bigger your eyes are than your fat pasta filled stomach. 

*In desperation I even googled 'Can you make risotto with pudding rice?' The resounding answer was a definite no. 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Pork Chop For Wurzels Fans

No pink bits here
I haven't blogged for ages, and my Dad noticed and took the trouble to tell me that I hadn't done anything since the pizza post in September, so I thought I'd better pull my finger out. Especially since I have been cooking lots recently. I got a puppy and got married, both pretty time consuming past times, but now the wedding is over and I can turn by back on my puppy for more than 0.158 seconds before something terrible happens, I'm back, cooking more, and will try and blog more often. For selfish reasons really, it's easier to google a recipe on my blog than find the recipe book or remember how to make something. But I hope you can make good use of it too. 

This recipe, pork chops braised in cider, is somewhat perfect for the chilly weather we've been having recently (HELLO! IT IS FEBRUARY!) and is far easier than cooking a pork chop quickly, to perfection. Done quickly and perfectly it is a delight to behold, but all too easy to over-cook to the texture of a flip flop, or under-cook, in search of juicyness and serve up raw. We have an on-going hilaaarious joke in my house that I can't cook a pork chop, EVERY time I cook one for the Husband (that still feels so weird) there are pink raw bits and he won't listen to me when I tell him that all the fancy restaurants cook it slightly pink these days, I just get cries of 'But it's bleeeding'. Whatever.

Anyway, no danger of that here, the pork is slowly braised to forkable (is that a word?) softness, with a gorgeous cider sauce, just the right balance of sweet and tangy.

Feeds 2. Season two pork chops and brown really well in a little olive oil in a  casserole dish that fits them fairly snugly. Remove the chops, set aside, and soften a small sliced onion, adding more oil if you need it. Don't burn. Add a chopped clove of garlic after 5 minutes and after that has had a minute to cook put the pork back in and pour in approx 200ml of cider. I use Wild Wood, best cider ever, but it sometimes makes me scrimp on the cider in the recipe because I like to drink most of it. Add a good splash of water, give it a stir, and simmer on a low heat with lid on for about 45 minutes, turning the chops over half way. At this point the pork should be really soft, if not cook a little longer. If you have too much sauce then just quickly bubble on a higher heat for a bit. Add a big blob of creme fraiche and check seasoning, sprinkling with a little chopped parsley to lift it a bit. Perfect with mash, or wet polenta as pictured (easier than mash and no peeling, wooo!).

By this point you will almost definitely be slightly marinaded in cider as you had to do something productive while the pork cooked right? 

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Perfect Pizza

Let's face it. Good pizza is awesome. Do you even know anyone who doesn't like pizza?! For a cheapo dinner date with mates it's perfect, but made at home it's somehow more special (and seems healthier somehow?!). I would define a good pizza as being so thin it almost can't bear the weight of the topping, and talking of toppings, I have learnt over the years that less is more. Cover your pizza in a greedy mish mash of toppings and you will have a soggy mess. Adorn your pizza sparingly and you will have a delicious light crispy mouthful of heaven. Pizza is getting really good in the UK now, finally steering away from deep pan and stuffed crusts (HOTDOG STUFFED CRUSTS, WTF?????). The most memorable slice of pizza I had was in a train station cafe in Riccione on the way to an Italian girlfriend's hen do. I decided then and there that I should probably be living in Italy if that was what you got in the station cafe. Soggy overpriced croissants and extortionate crap tea this wasn't.

As usual, I digress. Below is what I reckon to be a great pizza recipe, yes it's a slight effort to make it from scratch but make a batch on a rainy day (oh lots of them this AUGUST) and freeze what you don't use. I thought it might be a it of a lie that you can freeze the dough but it's true! And you look completely badass when you can just whip up home made pizzas with half an hours notice. This is based on Jamie Oliver's recipe which I have used forever.

Makes 6-8 massive pizzas. I hate floury mess so I like to throw all the dry ingredients in a bowl to mix and knead but do what you want. Sieve 1kg strong bread flour/00 flour/plain flour if that's all you've got into a massive bowl/clean work surface with a teaspoon of salt. In a jug mix 2 of those nifty 7g sachets of yeast with 650ml lukewarm water, 4tbsp olive oil and 1tbsp sugar, mix well and leave for a minute. Pour into the well. Make a well in your flour, and using your fingers/fork/wooden spoon gradually swirl the wet into the dry and once incorporated get kneading, for about 5 ish minutes until you have a really nice smooth springy dough. Dust a bowl (can be same one) with flour, plop your dough in, sprinkle a little flour on top, cover with a damp tea towel and leave somewhere warm to prove until doubled in size (about an hour). This is where a fancy proving drawer seen recently on GBBO would come in handy but seriously who has one of those? Pre heat oven to max temp and put in a large baking tray/sheet.

Once all puffed up, take out of the bowl and on a floured surface 'knock it back'. I always like this bit, basically gently knead the air out of it. Break off a (girl sized) fist sized ball (at this point portion out the dough and individually freeze what you don't need in clingfilm) and roll it out into a really thin circle. Get it onto the now piping hot baking sheet and quickly smear some tomato sauce* and your toppings. Go easy remember! Shove back into oven and cook for about 6 minutes until golden and crispy. I won't tell you what to put on your pizza because half the fun is creating your own, if you have an awesome base whatever you put on will be great. Except pineapple, anything but pineapple.

* for tomato sauce I simply let a tin of chopped tomatoes, a squirt of tomato purée and a smashed garlic clove with seasoning, bubble down to a really thick sauce which takes about half an hour if that.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Get Dressed

The humble but divine vinaigrette
How many bottles of various salad dressings do you have in your cupboard? I bet there is at least something with sweet chilli and one with whole grain mustard and maybe something poncey and artisanal that you've never opened. And they are all gross because salad dressing should be made at home. Practically free and one million times better than something bought. For years I've been trying to emulate my Dad's recipe, the problem being it's not really a recipe as he just makes it on the spot, a little taste here and there, until 'Aaah, just right'. I'm no salad hugger, but along side a juicy steak I want nothing more than a perfectly dressed salad. And chips. Lots of chips. When eaten with something on the heavy side, like a risotto, a perfectly dressed salad is a necessary and complimentary accompaniment. Friends have often asked how I make my dressing so I figured, yes, dressing does matter! How awful is a thoughtless splash of screamingly tart Balsamic vinegar over a beautiful salad? How is it so acidic and so sweet at the same time? 

You don't need fancy vinegars to make a decent dressing, lemon juice and olive oil works perfectly, but below are the ingredients I use to make what I reckon is a pretty near perfect lick for otherwise, lets face it, boring salad leaves.

Oil base: I always use extra virgin olive oil, don't understand this rape seeds oil stuff, bleurgh.
Acidity: Anything you fancy from lemon juice, cider or white wine vinegar etc etc
Sweetness: this will stop that burning in the back of your throat, the tiniest pinch of sugar, I use whatever is to hand. It's not to make it taste sweet, rather to neutralise the acid a little.
Seasoning: essential, freshly ground salt and pepper.
Heat: I nearly always add a little pinch of English mustard powder or a little Dijon mustard.
Flavour: For a simple salad I always like to let a bashed clove of garlic flavour the dressing.

I never bother measuring but the general rule is one part acid to three parts oil. The rest of it is personal taste but add a little at a time, you can always add but it's annoying trying to take away. I don't have anything fancy to make dressing in, I just use a little glass and give it all a good stir. If using garlic let it sit a while, otherwise you're good to go. Also great for asparagus and globe artichoke.

A nicely dressed salad adds much needed freshness to anything from steak to pasta, go forth and mix, elevate your drab lettuce leaves to something wonderful!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Potato Rosti for Breakfast (and not making a hash of it for once)

Come the morning on weekdays, I gulp down a smoothie, I'm never hungry first thing but if I don't eat, the lure of croissant perfume they pump out of M&S at Green Park will get me every time. Even if I remain strong I have to walk past an Eat and a Pret. So I am screwed if I don't eat before I leave the house. People look at me in horror when I tell them my breakfast smoothie contains a raw egg, my boss told me to try it and I've never looked back. Come the weekend however, there is generally a naughty lie in,  more time and often a little hangover to deal with. The weekend demands a fun breakfast, something you don't have time for during the week, something to kick off two days off in style. But who has the foresight to plan breakfast??! Generally not me, which is why we often end up with soft boiled eggs and soldiers which is a little bit fun, but not overly exciting.

I have been put off making rostis ever since I attempted it with a non-non-stick frying pan. It tasted ok but it was anything but a rosti. I tried again with a new pan and won. It couldn't be simpler. A load of grated spuds with a bit of onion thrown in for good measure, squished in a pan, fried to a crisp, with a poached egg lobbed on top. I mostly have spuds and eggs. No fancy ingredients needed for this one.

Feeds 2. Peel and grate two large potatoes, and one large onion. Put all your gratings into a clean tea towel and squeeze the hell out of it over the sink. Amazing how much liquid comes out. This, you do not want in your rosti, mainly because it won't be a rosti. When as dry as poss, mix in a bowl with plenty of seasoning. Heat plenty of olive oil in a NON STICK frying pan and divide the mix into four. Plop each on in the pan and squidge down with a spatula. After a few minutes have a careful, sneaky look at the underside, you want golden brown, not light brown or indeed dark brown. Flip over, cook the other side (add more oil if it's mostly been sucked up) and serve with a poached egg on top.

There are a multitude of ways to pimp this, just go for it with whatever you have in your fridge/cupboard. I liked it simple. But with harissa on the side, obviously.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Surprise Indian Style Seabass

'On train home. Have you eaten yet? x' was the text I read as I stumbled out of the Bikram studio last night. Which really meant 'What's for dinner?'. Sweaty and tomato-like I had a 20 minute walk home to concoct a dinner plan, I had to use the sea bass fillets in the fridge and was going to roast them on potatoes with a bit of harissa to jazz them up. 'Eurgh. That sounds weird.' Said the Boyfriend, who spent the next 5 minutes hopefully suggesting curry. By the time I got home I had it sorted. Oven on, jump in shower, dress, rub a load of cubed potatoes and cauliflower with spices and roast, pan fry the fish with some more Indian bits and pieces, and bosh. No-one really wants to cook at 9pm knackered from a Bikram class but there wasn't really any choice, and it was really quick and easy, and I even got a 'That was really delicious!' from the Boyfriend, so that's why I'm sharing this recipe. I DONE A RECIPE ALL BY MYSELF!

Feeds two porkers. Pre-heat oven to 190c. Cube a couple of medium sized potatoes (don't bother peeling) into cubes no larger than 2cm and cut up a cauliflower into florets. Don't chuck the soft inner leaves, they're the best bits when they go all browned and crunchy. Slice two garlic cloves length-ways, not too thinly. That's important, otherwise they burn and go bitter. Put all this in a large baking tray and sprinkle over a teaspoon each of cumin seeds, mustard seeds, garam masala, half a teaspoon of tumeric and salt, one finely sliced red chili a generous glug of olive oil and mix well (hands are best, but then I still have yellow nails and look like I smoke 200 a day so use a spatula if you like). Roast for 20 minutes or so, turning a couple of times so it doesn't stick. You want it to the potatoes to be cooked through and the cauliflower a little browned but with a little bite still. Take two fillets of sea bass and rub with a mixture of the following: half a teaspoon of ground cumin, ground coriander and a pinch of salt and pepper. When the veg is just about ready, heat a non-stick frying pan, add a splash of oil and fry skin down for two or three minutes to make the skin nice and crispy. Turn over and cook for a further minute. Serve with the potatoes and cauliflower, a sprinkling of chopped coriander, and if like us, you need a bit of green, some cooked sliced cabbage tossed with a little fried garlic and mustard seeds.

This was one of those happy experiments that I will cook again. Not like my un-happy experiment the other day (a horrible mess of soggy noodles and cloying peanut butter which was so inedible it actually went in the bin).

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Shakshuka - Pimped with Merguez

'Why have you put little turds in my breakfast?' asked The Boyfriend, when he finally emerged from his bed at midday on Sunday. That was the thanks I got for making a hangover busting feast for him (us). This is a rather exotic version of Eggs In Purgatory, hailing from Tunisia, Morocco, Libya or Algeria* depending on who you listen to and this recipe is an amalgamation of the many recipes out there. I think it's fair to say we have Yottam Ottolenghi to thank for the recent enthusiasm for North African and Middle-Eastern cooking, our cupboards are exploding enthusiastically with za'atar and sumac and what not, and if it means I get to eat things like this on a regular basis, hooray for him. 

Feeds two slightly hanging people who should know better. Grill/fry some lamb merguez sausages, they can be slightly undercooked as they will cook with the eggs a bit later. Just brown them nicely. In a large deep frying pan heat a generous glug of olive oil and gently fry one chopped onion, two chopped garlic cloves and a chopped red chilli (seeds in or out, your choice, it always makes me annoyed when a recipe says 'remove seeds', because what if I don't want to??!), half a chopped red pepper (you can use a whole one but I find it a bit sweet). After about 7 minutes add a tbsp harissa and cook for a further few minutes. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes and season well. Let it bubble away gentle for maybe 10 minutes, until it has noticeably thickened. At this point take a spoon, make a little well in the sauce and crack an egg into said well. repeat three times then artistically place the sausages around the eggs. take a spoon/fork and with the wrong end, swirl the egg whites around, mixing into the sauce a bit but don't break the yolks. It can be a little tricky getting the whites cooked before the yolks overcook but keeping the dish uncovered helps. It will take about 6 minutes for the eggs to cook, less with a lid on. Serve strewn with chopped mint/parsley/coriander and a dollop of natural yoghurt or labneh (just strained yoghurt, which I am currently obsessed with). A bit of bread of some description wouldn't go amiss either.

You could pimp this further with feta, spring onions, chorizo instead of Merguez, whatever you have handy. Try not to get sausages that look like little turds though, although they did taste amazing...

*or all of the above. I think it might be like hummus, no-one really knows where it originated.